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State to bring back bobwhite quail

By Staff | Jul 19, 2019

An adult male bobwhite quail perches on a bed of moss. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Farmland in Jefferson County used to be a sounding board for bobwhite quail, the little game bird with the shrill call, giving the lively feathered friend its name.

Those hunting the edges of pastures and fields already harvested of their wheat, barley and corn found the bobwhite quail a worthy adversary to their hunting prowess and bird-finding dogs.

Coveys of quail gathered themselves in the weed-covered breaks of farm fields. Along fence rows they would find weed seed, wild berries and sparse clover which could sustain them.

Men hunted them, working behind setters and pointers to found the bird’s scent . . . and then the dogs stood nearly motionless in a classic “point” that had their tails erect and their noses aimed straight at where the birds were located.

That sort of sporting activity went on for years. But then, in the seeming blink of an eye, it had vanished.

Pictured is an adult female bobwhite quail, which has disappeared from West Virginia's landscape. Courtesy photo

The destruction of habitat made severe inroads on the bobwhite quail population. Winters with heavy snow and unusually cold temperatures were another reason for the depletion of quail. Predators took their turn, along with pesticides, herbicides and DDT, which were burdens that could not be overcome.

By the mid-1970s, to hear the distinct call of “bobwhite” coming from a brushy break in the middle of a farmer’s field or from a copse of young trees was unheard of by hunter or outdoorsman alike.

The peppery little bird with the small white head and narrow black stripe coursing under its eyes was not to be found. There was no more rush of frantically beating wings as the bird flushed from cover. Heard no more was the call of scattered covey mates trying to regroup, after being split apart by hunters trying to reap a small meal of gamebird, seasonings and brown rice.

A movement is afoot at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan and Mingo counties, to reintroduce bobwhite quail to West Virginia.

Of the 32,000 acres in management area, about 500 acres will eventually be devoted to bobwhite quail.

The land was once the home of surface mines, and will be turned into grassland and brushland by the wildlife management group.

Elk were placed in the same area in 2016 and are holding their own as of now.

Clover, winter wheat and cold-season grasses will be planted — all food for the quail.

Blackberry bushes will form thickets to provide cover, while food will be planted in the middle of larger fields of short grasses.

How are the now-gone quail going to be obtained?

West Virginia is going to trade wild turkeys to the state of Texas for the bobwhite quail.

This reintroduction process could start as soon as next spring.

Where Logan and Mingo counties once had the Hatfields and McCoys, soon those two mostly rural areas will have the Bobwhite Quails — making their first return since last being seen in the area since the mid-1970s.